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UK News Maxwell Confait murder: how the wrongful conviction of three teenagers is explored in Catching Britain's Killers

21:00  23 october  2019
21:00  23 october  2019 Source:   inews.co.uk

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The third final episode of the BBC's documentary series Catching Britain's Killers: the Crimes That Changed Us focuses on interrogation, a theme explored through the murder of Maxwell Confait.

a man wearing glasses © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

It follows on from the first two programmes, which investigated the deaths of Julie Hogg, Dawn Ashworth and Lynda Mann.

Confait's death in 1972 led to one of the most famous miscarriages of justice in British legal history and to a major shake-up of police powers.

Here's what happened, and how it's explored in Catching Britain's Killers, which airs on BBC Two on Wednesday 23 October at 9.00pm.

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Jenny Price, daughter of the late Lewisham MP Christopher Price, appears in Catching Britain's Killers (Photo: Wall to Wall Media Ltd)

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What happened to Maxwell Confait?

The body of Maxwell Confait, a male sex worker who was known as Michelle, was found in a house in Lewisham, south-east London, in the early hours of 22 April, 1972.

Firefighters had been called to extinguish a blaze at the property in Catford, where they discovered Confait behind a locked door in an upstairs bedroom.

The 26-year-old, who was born in the Seychelles and had also grown up in Kenya before moving to London, had been strangled.

Police initially suspected Confait's landlord, Winston Goode, but arrested three teenagers after a series of small fires in the area broke out in the same area two days later.

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The first was Collin Lattimore, 18, who admitted to lighting the fire on Doggett Road – where Confait's body was found – along with his friends Ronnie Leighton, 15, and Ahmet Salih, 14.

Lattimore had learning difficulties and the mental age of an eight-year-old, with The Mirror reporting that his brother Gary tells the BBC documentary: "No way was he capable of murdering anyone. He was scared of his own shadow.

"Colin couldn’t read or write. He didn’t act like an 18-year-old man, he was more like an eight-year-old. He was a boy in a man’s body."

The trio were held by police without a lawyer and without the presence of a parent or guardian, contravening usual practices. Following hours of interrogation, they signed a statement confessing to both the fire and the murder of Maxwell.

Jonathan Caplan QC, a barrister who worked on overturning the convictions of the three teenagers, also features in the BBC documentary (Photo: Wall to Wall Media Ltd)

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Lattimore was found guilty of manslaughter with diminished responsibility and confined for life under the mental health act and Leighton jailed for life after being convicted of murder, while all three were found guilty of arson.

However, following an appeal from Lattimore's father Colin – who was convinced of his son's innocence – backed by Lewisham MPs Carol Johnson and Christopher Price, the campaign for the case to be reexamined gradually gained momentum.

A re-examination of pathological evidence indicated that the boys had strong alibis for the most likely time that the murder was committed, and the case was referred to the Court of Appeal in June 1975. They were found not guilty of all charges and had their convictions quashed.

In the aftermath of the verdict the Henry Fisher Inquiry was launched into the handling of the case, which found that the police had not followed protocol during the interviews with the young suspects and had used violence.

However, the investigation also concluded that the three teenagers had been responsible for the fire, and maintained that Leighton and Salih had killed Confait.

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It wasn't until 1980, when a new police investigation discovered that Confait had actually been killed over 48 hours before they had originally thought, that they were exonerated.

The Attorney General Sir Michael Havers publicly declared their innocence in a written statement in the House of Commons, more than eight years after they were initially arrested.

In 1984, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act introduced a legislative framework of guidelines governing the treatment of suspects when in custody, including when they are interviewed.

How does Catching Britain's Killers explore the case?

The BBC documentary explores how the local MP took up the case of the three teenagers and ensured it received maximum publicity, finally prompting the appeal.

It weaves together archive and interview footage with the trio's relatives, the late MP Christopher Price, police officers and lawyers.

This is used to demonstrate how the miscarriage of justice of three teenagers confessing to something they didn't do shone a light on dangerous police practices and lead to an overhaul of the law.

However, as evidence explored in the documentary shows, police practices have not yet universally caught up with the changes in the law, with further reforms leading to the search for evidence, rather than pressing for confessions, as the goal for UK police investigations.

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